Irish Golf set for bumper 2012

Updated: December 23, 2011

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Having produced just one major champion in the 150 years before Padraig Harrington captured the Claret Jug at Carnoustie in 2007, seeing an Irishman posing with one of golf’s biggest trophies has become something of the norm in recent years.

First Harrington followed up his victory with another Open win at Royal Birkdale the next year and also added a PGA Championship win at Oakland Hills.

Just over a year later it was Graeme McDowell holding firm while all around him collapsed to take down the 2010 U.S Open at Pebble Beach.

This years opening looked like it would be another celebration for fans of Irish golf as for three days, Rory McIlroy thrilled the Georgia crowds as he tore around Augusta as if he were playing a practice round at Holywood Lakes, where he first began to hone his talent.

For such a young man, that occasion appeared too much. Late on Saturday his putter began to run cold and this continued Sunday before his usually perfect swing deserted him on that infamous tee shot on the 10th.

The subsequent unravelling was reminiscent of one of those Greg Norman collapses and no doubt left some wondering if he would ever recover especially when he failed to close out a European tour event in Malaysia the next week.

He answered any doubts in emphatic style when he tore apart the U.S Open field in a manner not seen since Tiger Woods was in his prime untroubled by knee, or personal problems.

He ended a very successful year 2nd in the race to Dubai behind world number one Luke Donald despite suffering from exhaustion due to a debilitating case of dengue fever towards the end of the season.

After the McIlroy roller coaster provided by the first two majors of the year no-one could have foreseen his mentor Darren Clarke, who produced his first top ten in a major for a decade when winning the British Open at Royal St.Georges.

Such a stretch is probably unsustainable for a country so small. Aside from the U.S.A, (21) only South Africa can boast as many as the 6 major victories in the past 10 years as those men from this little Island beside Britain.

However there are positive signs for Irish golf over the next twelve months. Firstly one can only expect McIlroy to go from strength to strength. While he has been mocked in some parts for his new Tennis player girlfriend Caroline Wosniaki, there can surely be no better motivation than joining her as a world number 1.Such a feat is well within his grasp.

One could argue that his form dip in the months subsequent could be attributed to the sheer hysteria and spotlight that his scarcely believable performance. Twitter spats with American commentator Jay Townsend and Lee Westwood and comments about disliking links golf seemed to be those of a frustrated figure.

The performances picked up later in the season as he learned to cope the added attention. This will stand him in good stead for next season.

Indeed if he needs advice on coping with added distraction he need look no further than McDowell who he has joined at Horizon.

The man from Portrush admitted earlier in the year to having trouble adjusting to some of the external distractions that came with becoming a major champion. With both players having experienced some of the issues and sharing a close relationship they will be well prepared to deal with these issues better in 2012.

Those two firing on all cylinders probably represent the most likely candidates for more major success but another to watch is Harrington who recently split from long term coach Bob Torrance.

Considering that much of the focus of his recent struggles has focused around swing changes one can only hope that some fresh ideas will lead him back to the form he displayed when becoming world number 3 just a few years ago.

With Clarke enjoying a resurgence in form this year, having previously seemed to be headed for semi retirement, Harrington who has more drive and determination than pretty much any golfer on tour has a great chance to get back to his best.

The great thing for fans of Irish golf is that we are no longer reliant on these two and Paul McGinley to provide the glory. In fact with McGinley having lost his card and in any case moving towards more administrative roles with the tour committee and possibly even a future Ryder Cup captaincy, others are stepping up in his stead.

Two who spring to mind immediately are Michael Hoey and Shane Lowry. Hoey’s stunning victory at the Alfred Dunhill Links, where he held off the challenge fellow Northerner McIlroy, propelled him into the headlines, but it was just part of a wonderful season that saw him become the fourth Northerner to finish in the top 25 for the race to Dubai along with McIlroy, McDowell and Clarke.

Lowry meanwhile overcame a horrific start to the season where he was plagued by a wrist injury to finish 41st on the money list. He also played in his first major championship at the U.S Open and is really beginning to look like he belongs on tour.

His eight place finish in the Dubai World Championship and an injury free start to 2012 means we can expect big things from the man who burst onto the scene with that Irish Open victory back in 2010.

With the likes of Peter Lawrie, Gareth Maybin and Damien McGrane all keeping their cards Ireland will have nine players playing on tour next year. While this year was special, next year has potential to be another great one for Irish golf.

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